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What Matters Most to Mizzou?

A while ago on Anchor of Gold (SBN's Vandy blog), I saw a post I really enjoyed, called "Who Drives the 'Dores?"  The idea was simple: take a look at the stats from wins and losses and see where the biggest differences are.  The AOG post focused mostly on things like points per game, but what would the data look like if I took the typical stats we look at here before and after games, and break them out for wins and losses?

The below data takes a look at only games against "real" opponents, removing all of the UT-Pan American's from the slate (because what would that data really tell us?).  In all, Mizzou has played 15 "real" opponents in 2009-10, per my own definition: vs Old Dominion, vs Richmond, at Vandy, Oregon, at Oral Roberts, vs Illinois, Georgia, and all conference games.  They have gone 9-6 in those games.  Below is the data from the nine wins, compared to the six losses.  Obviously this is a small enough sample size that one particularly great or terrible game can still skew things a bit, but I think this data still has a pretty good story to tell.

Team Stats

Mizzou Wins
Mizzou Losses
Opp. Mizzou
Points Per Minute
2.08 1.68 1.64 1.81
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.18 0.96 0.95 1.05
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.39 1.20 1.06 1.36
2-PT FG% 48.2% 43.8% 39.0% 50.9%
3-PT FG% 41.0% 31.6% 32.5% 36.1%
FT% 74.2% 71.4% 74.3% 72.2%
True Shooting % 58.2% 50.6% 46.8% 56.9%
Mizzou Opp. Mizzou Opp.
Assists/Gm 17.3 9.9 10.5 12.8
Steals/Gm 10.0 7.2 10.7 5.7
Turnovers/Gm 13.9 19.4 10.7 20.0
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.97 0.88 1.98 0.93
Mizzou Opp. Mizzou Opp.
Exp. Off. Rebounds/Gm 12.8 13.2 14.7 11.2
Off. Rebounds/Gm 13.8 14.7 11.5 14.0
Difference +1.0 +1.5 -3.2 +3.2

Mizzou's wins have actually been played at a pace similar to their losses -- 71.5 possessions per game in wins, 69.1 in losses.  That's not as big a disparity as we may have guessed.

In all, a lot of this data is easy to explain -- in wins, Mizzou plays better offense, better defense, and rebounds better.  Duh.  But let's take a look at the biggest disparities and the biggest surprises:

  • Points Per Shot: Mizzou gathers almost 25% less payback per shot in losses than in wins.  That is a huge difference.  In losses, their 1.06 PPS suggests one clear thing: they're taking too many long shots, and they're not getting to the line.  Sometimes they're even missing the shorter shots too.  We knew heading into this year that pure shooting and offensive talent might be an issue, particularly around the basket, and that has very clearly been the case thus far, at least in the lapses that lead to losses.
  • FG%: While Mizzou's defense is a bit worse in terms of FG% defense, it is again the offense with the bigger disparity.  Mizzou falls from a good 3-point shooting team to an iffy-at-best one, and they fall from a decent 2-point shooting team to one of the worst in the country.  The 2-point shooting fails in a lot of different ways -- sometimes, as with the Kansas game, they shoot far too many low-percentage 17-footers; sometimes they miss 10-foot runner after 10-foot runner; and sometimes they just can't connect near the basket -- but Mizzou is a really bad shooting team in losses.
  • Free Throws: While Mizzou allows roughly the same number of free throws in wins and losses, they shoot a much higher number of FTs in wins.  Part of that can be explained by them being ahead and getting fouled (think of the end of the Illinois and Texas Tech games, for example), but they shoot eight more FTs per game in wins, and at least some of that is likely due to a bit more physical play and aggressiveness ... though not as much as we might have thought.
  • Assists: Perhaps no stat wraps the story together better than the assists total.  In wins, Mizzou is scoring more easy buckets and averaging 17.3 dimes/game.  In losses, 10.5.  Perhaps this shows you how the FG%'s are lower as well -- not only is Mizzou missing more shots, but they're apparently not setting up as many easy shots via the pass.  We want Mizzou to "penetrate more" and "get to the basket," but the bigger problem has perhaps been with ball movement than penetration (and yes, sometimes penetration sets up ball movement).
  • Turnovers: Here's a fun one.  Mizzou actually averages 3.2 MORE turnovers per game on offense in wins (1.5 of those added turnovers come from steals).  Combine this with the assists total, and you start to see that this may be as much of a mindset issue as anything else.  When Mizzou is moving the ball aggressively and trying harder to penetrate, they risk turning the ball over more, but on the whole, this is okay.  It results in a few more negatives and a lot more positives.  When they are moving the ball around the perimeter, tentatively looking for lanes to penetrate but not pulling the trigger and eventually just settling for 3-pointers, things go sour quickly, even if they turn the ball over less.

    (Strangely, though, the rise in both assists and turnovers in wins results in an almost identical BCI total in wins and losses, which was unexpected.)
  • R-E-B-O-U-N-DJustin Safford and Keith Ramsey, pay attention: in wins, Mizzou is outrebounded (in terms of expected rebounds) by 0.5 per game.  They basically break even.  They are SIX REBOUNDS WORSE in losses.  Think about what that means.  They are allowing 1.7 more second chances per game in losses, and they are being denied 4.2 second chances.  So not only are they shooting 10% worse, but they're getting four fewer shots.

    Now, some of this problem is, for this season, firmly in "It is what it is" territory.  Safford is a guard in a big's body, and I don't see him ever being a great rebounder; meanwhile, Ramsey is a hard worker but can still be muscled around by the Cole Aldrich and Bryan Davis types.  This isn't going to change next year, and hopefully next season, when Steve Moore improves a smidge more, and John Underwood is (in theory) ready for some minutes, and Tony Mitchell maybe brings some more pure talent to the equation, things will improve.  But to the extent that rebounding is about effort as much as anything else, Mizzou has had lapses in focus on the glass, and they seem to happen more when they are not shooting well and being as aggressive on the offensive end.
  • Now it's time to take on individual player stats.


    Player Stats

    Player AdjGS* GmSc/Min Line
    Laurence Bowers (Wins) 13.4 0.67 20.1 MPG, 11.7 PPG (58.5% FG), 5.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG
    Laurence Bowers (Losses) 11.4 0.57 20.2 MPG, 8.0 PPG (47.7% FG), 6.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG
    -- Diff +2.0 +0.10 +3.7 PPG, +10.8% FG
    Marcus Denmon (Wins) 12.3 0.58 21.2 MPG, 13.1 PPG (47.4% FG, 47.2% 3PT), 3.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.8 SPG
    Marcus Denmon (Losses) 7.3 0.37 20.0 MPG, 7.5 PPG (46.9% FG, 47.6% 3PT), 1.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.2 SPG
    -- Diff +5.0 +0.21 +5.6 PPG, +0.5% FG
    Zaire Taylor (Wins) 11.1 0.43 26.1 MPG, 8.7 PPG (43.1% FG, 44.0% 3PT), 3.2 APG, 2.9 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 0.9 TOPG
    Zaire Taylor (Losses) 9.1 0.29 31.8 MPG, 7.7 PPG (28.6% FG, 23.8% 3PT), 3.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.3 TOPG
    -- Diff +2.0 +0.14 +1.0 PPG, +14.5% FG, +12.2% 3PT
    Kim English (Wins) 10.9 0.43 25.1 MPG, 14.6 PPG (38.0% FG, 37.5% 3PT), 4.4 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.8 TOPG
    Kim English (Losses) 9.0 0.36 24.7 MPG, 12.3 PPG (32.9% FG, 25.9% 3PT), 3.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.8 TOPG
    -- Diff +1.9 +0.07 +2.3 PPG, +5.1% FG, +11.6% 3PT
    Keith Ramsey (Wins) 7.7 0.29 26.7 MPG, 6.3 PPG (64.5% FG), 5.6 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 APG, 2.9 TOPG
    Keith Ramsey (Losses) 9.3 0.34 27.8 MPG, 4.3 PPG (47.6% FG), 5.2 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 2.0 SPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 TOPG
    -- Diff -1.6 -0.05 +2.0 PPG, +16.9% FG
    Mike Dixon (Wins) 7.2 0.42 17.0 MPG, 8.4 PPG (43.4% FG, 42.9% 3PT), 1.6 APG
    Mike Dixon (Losses) 2.9 0.21 13.8 MPG, 4.8 PPG (31.4% FG, 30.0% 3PT), 1.0 APG
    -- Diff +4.3 +0.21 +3.6 PPG, +12.0% FG, +12.9% 3PT
    J.T. Tiller (Wins) 7.2 0.31 23.3 MPG, 8.2 PPG (35.4% FG, 13.3% 3PT), 4.3 APG, 2.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 2.2 TOPG
    J.T. Tiller (Losses) 7.3 0.28 26.0 MPG, 9.7 PPG (37.7% FG, 9.1% 3PT), 1.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 2.2 TOPG
    -- Diff -0.1 +0.03 -1.5 PPG, -2.3% FG, +4.2% 3PT
    Justin Safford (Wins) 6.3 0.28 22.9 MPG, 8.2 PPG (44.8% FG, 50.0% 3PT), 4.2 RPG, 1.7 TOPG
    Justin Safford (Losses) 10.2 0.48 21.2 MPG, 10.7 PPG (40.7% FG, 40.0% 3PT), 3.2 RPG, 0.5 TOPG
    -- Diff -3.9 -0.20 -2.5 PPG, +3.1% FG, +10.0% 3PT
    Miguel Paul (Wins) 3.4 0.32 10.8 MPG, 3.3 PPG (56.3% FG), 1.6 APG
    Miguel Paul (Losses) -2.7 -0.32 8.2 MPG, 0.0 PPG (0.0% FG), 0.2 APG
    -- Diff +6.1 +0.64 +3.3 PPG
    Steve Moore (Wins) 1.1 0.12 8.8 MPG, 1.0 PPG (33.3% FG), 1.4 RPG
    Steve Moore (Losses) 0.7 0.10 7.7 MPG, 0.7 PPG (0.0% FG), 1.3 RPG
    -- Diff +0.4 +0.02 +0.3 PPG

    * AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It takes points, assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls into account to determine an individual's "score" for a given game.  The "adjustment" in Adjusted Game Score is simply matching the total game scores to the total points scored in the game, thereby redistributing the game's points scored to those who had the biggest impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

    • So this data tells a VERY strange story.  In wins, Mizzou's bigs -- Bowers, Ramsey, Safford and Moore -- combine for 28.5 AdjGS points; in losses, 31.6.  Mizzou rebounds much worse in losses, but the loss of rebounds is offset by the addition of points and other stats.  Just check out Safford's line: he posts an 8 & 4 in wins, a 10 & 3 in losses.  He takes more shots and makes less of an impact.

      This suggests what could perhaps be considered this team's single biggest driving factor: guard aggressiveness.  When the guards are doing their jobs well, the bigs aren't taking nearly as much scoring responsibility but are attacking the glass with twice the effectiveness.  This is a guard-oriented team, and when they do well, Mizzou wins no matter what the bigs produce.
    • Driving factor #2: the backup guards. In wins, Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller produce 1.9 more AdjGS points, and Mr. Coffee is an infinitely better shooter, so there's that, but check out the total from the backups.  Denmon, Dixon and Paul combine for 22.9 AdjGS points in wins, 7.5 in losses.  WOW.  You simply will not find a bigger disparity than that.

      When Mizzou's second-stringers are playing well, Mizzou is almost unbeatable.  You officially do not get a breather against this team when the Denmon-Dixon (and sometimes Paul) line is playing well, and if Mizzou has hope of not only making the NCAA Tournament, but winning a couple of games there, Denmon and Dixon could be the X-factors (I simply do not have much hope for Paul, at least not this year), and for different reasons.

      For Denmon, it is just about being aggressive.  He shoots wonderfully in both wins and losses, but whereas he averages 0.27 shots (and 0.08 free throws) per minute in losses, he averages 0.40 shots (and 0.14 free throws) in wins.  For a lot of this post, the message is simply "When Mizzou shoots better, they win."  That's not very informative.  But the single biggest factor for Mizzou is in control is the aggressiveness of Soul Crusher/Denmoney (depending on your nickname preference ... I still prefer Soul Crusher).  When he's shooting open 3's and driving when he's not open beyond the arc, Mizzou is a VERY good offensive team.  In a lot of ways, I think he is a lot like Zaire Taylor -- he lets the game come to him and doesn't force the issue, and that's usually a good thing.  Plus, with the more experience he gets, the slower the game will feel to him, and the better he will do while still playing in complete control.  But in the meantime, he probably needs to assert himself a bit more and play out of control every now and then, just to see what happens.  Maybe the results would be disastrous, but we'd know what his ceiling is this year.  When you see him score 20+ points without taking many chances, like he did against Colorado yesterday, you start to wonder just how high his immediate ceiling is, and I really want to find out.

      Meanwhile, if The Predator shows up, look out.  Mizzou is damn near unstoppable (just ask Illinois).  If it's just "freshman guard Mike Dixon" instead of The Predator, then Mizzou is much more beatable.


    The takeaway messages from this exercise:

    1. When Mizzou is aggressive on offense, driving a lot and, more importantly, taking more chances in ball movement, they are really tough to beat.  They turn the ball over more, but they also create many more open shots and rack up the assists in a hurry.  Mizzou's defense is roughly similar in both wins and losses (it's worse, but not significantly so), but the disparity in the offensive numbers is huge, and it is most clearly expressed in the huge difference in assists and FG%, and while we have all screamed about penetrating more, the penetration doesn't necessarily need to lead to layups and/or free throws -- it just needs to open up the court for more open shots.

    2. When Mizzou's backups are an asset instead of a liability, Mizzou is unstoppable.  When Marcus Denmon is in Soul Crusher Mode and Mike Dixon makes his jumpers, Mizzou moves much closer to "Fastest 40 Minutes" territory instead of "Fastest 25 Minutes."  Dixon's shot comes and goes, but the data does suggest that Denmon could assert himself a little more without hurting his FG%.  If the light switch flips on, and Denmon becomes a more assertive scorer (he's already averaging 11 PPG despite disappearing occasionally), then Mizzou's ceiling is suddenly much higher despite the streakiness of their other guards and their lack of strong interior play.